Peake firing escalates new government crisis

Karolína Peake, photo: CTK

The country’s fragile centre-right government is once again teetering on the brink: a major crisis flared up on Thursday when the prime minister fired newly-named Defence Minister Karolína Peake, the head of the LIDEM Party, after just eight days in office. The leadership of the Liberal Democrats in response called on its ministers to quit the cabinet by January 10, threatening the survival of the government.

Karolína Peake,  photo: CTK
Defence Minister Karolína Peake’s firing on Thursday, just eight days after assuming office, should not have been that surprising: the minister – who had come under fire from critics like the president even prior to her naming for her lack of expertise, wasted no time in raising the prime minister’s and president’s hackles. She took major personnel changes at the ministry on her first day at work, firing three top officials including the former chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, Vlastimil Picek. That decision, which the prime minister said he had not been told of in advance, and Peake’s failure to apply for security clearance needed in her post, made him lose all confidence she was up to the job. Prime Minister Petr Nečas:

“She made clear ahead of her naming she would not make any major personnel changes but the opposite was true: steps were prepared in advance and then taken behind my back. These steps were critical in my decision: if [Mrs Peake] thought from the telephone conversation we had that I was just reacting emotionally, and that the whole thing would blow over, she was very mistaken.”

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
Apparently, the defence minister, though, did not expect the hammer to come down. Her reaction and that of LIDEM was itself fairly swift. Karolína Peake:

“The prime minister, it appears, made deals behind our backs about personnel at the Defence Ministry but informed none of us. The goal apparently was not to have steady government but a ‘puppet’ minister and a coalition ‘in name’ only. The leadership of LIDEM therefore calls on its ministers to quit the government by January 10.”

Later in the evening on Thursday the leader of the Liberal Democrats repeated she saw no way forward other than for her party to leave the government, sparking increased speculation about the future of the government and whether it would survive or fall if it came to a confidence vote. Lubomír Zaorálek, of the opposition Social Democrats, explained how he saw Thursday’s developments.

“I find it unbelievable today that the prime minister alludes to childish behaviour and infantilism and lies: how is it possible that he pushed so strongly for Mrs Peake to be defence minister originally? He should have been able to defend her as a choice... my feeling is the prime minister is not up to the job.”

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: CTK
The opposition’s chances of bringing down the government, though, may have lessened: there are already signs cooler heads have begun to prevail. Speaking after a meeting of his party’s top leadership on Friday morning, the prime minister repeated that he would prefer for the three-party coalition – including LIDEM – to continue. He stressed that he had no problem with Mrs Peake as deputy prime minister, a post she has held until now, explaining she had simply been wrong as head of defence. And, he stressed the matter would be resolved after the holidays. LIDEM is not having any of it for the time being, but communication lines reportedly remain open: talks between the parties in government to try and resolve the situation are expected in the New Year.